Wednesday, August 17, 2011
Racing Life’s Trains
After a hot day on the beach, my six-year-old son and I were tired, ready to get back to our vacation condo. Taking a shortcut meant crossing train tracks where there was no barrier. “Whoooo, whoooo”—a train whistle sounded softly from around the bend.
“Listen, Mom, there’s a train coming,” BJ tugged at me. “Hurry!” he hollered, wanting to beat it across the tracks.
“Let’s wait,” I said, gripping his arm firmly.
Some teen-aged boys laughed and yelled, “Come on, chicken!,” as they raced the approaching danger. Tears welled up in my eyes as I remembered my old high school buddy, Mike, who got stuck on train tracks and died. “Chugga, chugga, chugga,” the train rumbled by as I kept a firm grasp on my son's arm.
For many years, I played chicken with life’s trains. When warning whistles blew deep inside my mind, my fear of rejection made me listen to those who called, “C’mon, if it feels good, do it!” Yet, around the bend were consequences, none of us could see and didn’t understand. At times the thrill of doing things that cultivated the approval of others made me oblivious to the outcome of my choices.
Ironically, a different train illustration helped me reorder my priorities in a way that began giving me the courage not to go along with crowd--or even individuals I cared about, who gave me bad advice.
One of my friends encouraged me to envision life as a train. She explained how the locomotive pulls the cars. A coal car supplies the energy required to keep the train going. The caboose follows behind. In my usual modus operandi, my feelings propelled life’s train. Quite often assumptions fueled those feelings. Way too often, pain followed as I suffered the consequences of bad choices.
Why? Because feelings of insecurity often drove my choices. My beliefs fueled those emotions but often those beliefs stemmed from assumptions based on my own limited perceptions. Sometimes friends or family added their faulty ideas as well.
In her book, Anonymous, Alicia Britt Chole, explained the issue this way: “Emotions are not truth’s vocal twin, and feelings are not the litmus test for reality. Our emotions and feelings are simply reactions to our environment, circumstances, and perceptions. By nature they are followers, and we place our souls in danger when we require them to take the lead. Truth, on the other hand, was born to lead. God’s truth clears the fog in our minds, provides much-needed boundaries for our emotions, and empowers our wills to choose well.” (page 73)
In other words, facts should pull the train. And, they should be fueled by faith (belief that if I act on those facts, I’ll achieve the best outcome). The emotions follow.
That imagery helped me quit navigating my decisions by how I felt or what others thought. It helped me stop being ruled by my fears. When I make decisions based on the Creator’s truth--not mine, or some other finite human being's--a right view of reality takes over. His perspective is far bigger and He can see around every bend. Good feelings usually follow, even when the outcome might not be what I would have chosen. Because this principle minimizes pain, it reinforces itself. That’s not to say good thinking eliminates suffering, but that's the topic for another day.
Still, choosing not to go along with a crowd-pleasing mentality can be extremely difficult. "Challenging the process," a known leadership skill, can help. That's tomorrow's topic.